“Rockin’ the Wedge” – The Cheese Book

January 25, 2012 non-fiction 5

As I discovered during my last library visit, number 637 in the Dewey Decimal System is devoted exclusively to cheesemaking!  I was intrigued, so I picked up a very elegant-looking book called The Joy of Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Making, and Eating Fine Cheese.  The first aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the elegant, sophisticated feeling it imparted, with both the cover and its description of “classic” cheeses I’d never even heard of.  The next thing I wanted to know, as I read impatiently through the introduction, was whether or not I could reasonably expect to make my own cheese.  Given enough money to spend on it, with this book I’d say the answer is yes.

When I first got to the step-by-step overview my first thought was that there was no way I could ever do this.  But the book does an excellent job of walking you through each step, chapter by chapter.  All of the math necessary to find the quantities of each ingredient to use is carefully explained and the materials needed for each section are all listed in tables with websites where you can purchase them.  To do cheesemaking right, however, it is necessary to purchase some specialized equipment, the most expensive items being a scale accurate to two decimal places and a temperature-controlled refrigerator.  There is one simple recipe given where the cheese ages at room temperature and does not require a specific application of pressure or the purchase of anything not available at the grocery store (many cheeses would require you to order specific bacteria cultures).  So I may try that recipe, for Queso Blanco, myself later 🙂

Another part of the book I really enjoyed were the “Rockin’ the Wedge” stories, which described exceptional farms and cheese makers.  These stories were enjoyable reading and personalized the business and art of cheesemaking.  I personally appreciated that authors often highlighted farms which had received awards for humane treatment of their animals and for sustainable practices.  These stories, as well as home-style recipes from many of the farms and incorporating many of their signature cheeses, were included both at the end of each chapter and as a dedicated chapter at the end of the book.  The farm stories and the fun facts about cheese both made what could have been a boring instruction manual a fun read.

The book also wrapped up with some guidelines for creating and tasting your own cheese board, as well as a section on wine and beer pairings.  Although I may not seriously dive into making cheese myself, this was a section I could appreciate.  In fact, I just went and bought some exciting cheeses and sides today (see picture) and am very much looking forward to trying them!  As suggested by the book I picked up five cheese, one from each category of cheese.  In order of increasing flavor, the cheese I got are: Chevra, Camembert, Gouda, Cheddar, and a blue cheese.

Although I liked the book, I was tempted to give it only three stars, because if I were describing the book to a friend, I would probably say that I liked it pretty well, but not really well.  As you can see by checking my new sidebar rating guide, this corresponds to three stars.  However, the book does a really awesome job of presenting a thorough guide to making cheese and got me interested enough to purchase some new cheeses  and to look up some cheese making kits (in the belief that the book gives enough instruction I could use such a kit).  So it did what it was supposed to do really well.  I decided that as a non-fiction book, that’s the most important criteria – does the book accomplish its goal as well as possible.  This book definitely does, thus my 5 star rating.
Summary
The Joy of Cheesemaking – 5 stars – this book could not do a better job introducing the world of cheesemaking.  It left me excited to try some new cheeses and perhaps eventually try making my own 🙂
A question for you, dear readers: How do you think we should judge non-fiction books?  Should they be held to the same standards as fiction with the expectation that they be truly engaging reads?  Or should non-fiction be judged by a different criteria?

5 Responses to ““Rockin’ the Wedge” – The Cheese Book”

  1. socrmom78

    I was laughing when you mentioned the Dewey #, because I was at 641.507 this past week looking for “Julie and Julia”. So I was right nearby!

    This book sounds amazing. One of my favorite parts of “Little House in the Big Woods” was when Laura described her Ma making cheese. It sounded like such a labor intensive process! I live right next door to Wisconsin so they do love them some cheese up here. Goat cheese is my favorite cheese. I hope you like the ones you got!

    I truly believe you can have a great nonfiction book that is informative and engaging at the same time. Call me crazy. 🙂 Those are always my favorites!

    • DoingDewey

      Ah, I must read that book! I loved the movie and I bet the book is even better. Hopefully you’ll review it and then I’ll know how much I should expect from it 🙂

      I’ve never had goat cheese before, so I think that’s the one I’m most excited about! I decided it would be bad for me to eat 5 large pieces of cheese alone, so I’m making myself wait until I have people over to open them all 😛

      You’re definitely right that ideally a non-fiction book would be both informative and engaging, but I do feel like that’s harder for something that has a large instruction-manual section like this book!

  2. Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    Mmm queso blanco! I hope you’ll share the results if you do make it! I’ve also heard ricotta is easy to make.

    As for rankings, with something as specialized as cheese-making I’d probably review it the same way you did. A history or memoir though I’d rate more subjectively.

    • DoingDewey

      I actually haven’t tried queso blanco before, so I should probably do that first so I’ll know if mine comes out horribly wrong 🙂

      One thing I think about when writing reviews is trying to keep my ratings as consistent as is reasonable when reviewing books from different genres, so they’ll be easy for people to interpret. But there are definitely different criteria for different sorts of books.

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like Julie and Julia, although I liked the movie enough I may still give it a try at some point. This is one story I could see having been better as a movie, since some of the scenes (trying to cook the lobster, for instance) are funny in a very visual way!